Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 16 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mental illness and addiction

I received my four year medallion at my home AA meeting this morning. Getting my medallion is always a great moment to reflect on what's happened over the past year. When I accepted my medallion, I mentioned Ben, the young man I mentored for two years and who graduated this past June; the support of my friends and sponsors, the lessons I've learned from sponsees, and this blog. Without sobriety, I noted, I wouldn't have been able to mentor anyone, I wouldn't have had close friends, sponsors or sponsees with whom to share my life, and I certainly wouldn't have been able to maintain this blog.

Afterward, it was this blog that seemed to create the most buzz within the room. When I brought it up, I noted that my blog was about mental illness--specifically depression--and that like many, I am an alcoholic who also has mental illness.

If you've been following along, you know I've written about mental illness and addiction before. Unfortunately, too often I was prompted to write after an AA'er made an irresponsible or negative comment about mental illness. Here are a few of my favorite examples: "Well if you just worked the steps better, you wouldn't have depression," or "All psychiatrists are idiots," or "If you're in recovery, you shouldn't take any anti-depressants." Thankfully, I didn't hear anything remotely resembling any of those comments today! In fact, something very strange happened. People started respectfully discussing mental illness among alcoholics!

To say I was pleasantly surprised by this development is an understatement! I was shocked. At least 10 people asked me for my blog address. Another 5 or 6 members confided that they, too, had a mental illness and/or took medication, and they thanked me for bringing it up. But perhaps most remarkable was when one of our long-term, male members (who gave me permission to write this) spoke directly about his own recent struggles. It seems he's been having some anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and general mental discomfort of late. He talked about calling his doctor, taking meds, and his plan to see a therapist for the first time in his life. After the meeting, he appeared to receive nothing but support from many of the men and women in the room.

I was honored and impressed with my AA group today. It wasn't that long ago when I felt the sting of stigma within this crowd. One member told me to stop talking about my depression, as it had nothing to do with recovery, she said. Imagine that member telling a cancer sufferer that her cancer was not relevant to her recovery! Today things were different. Rather than stigma, I experienced respect and support. I felt hope. Perhaps by not being silent the door today was opened. Perhaps by ignoring the ignorance, others felt comfortable not only to share but to support.

It was a big day, a dramatic day, for this mentally ill recovering alcoholic. I hope my AA group will continue to honor all struggles among our diverse lot. The door, it seems, is now ajar. Be open and honest about your struggles, my friends, you just never know what may happen. Perhaps you, too, will experience a great moment where support triumphs over stigma.

7 comments:

Medicated and pushing 50 said...

Anyone one with half a brain knows that the vast majority of alcoholics drink (do drugs, gamble, chronically promiscous) to self medicate. For me, my drug of choice was alcohol and I was masking what finally was correctly diagnosed as Bipolar (the non rapid cycling one; forget what it is I or II) and Borderline Personality disorder. Am happy to say that I have been living a happy, stable life. Only issue is my meds diminish my sense of motivation and I've been wanting to get back into running for half a year now but can't find the gumption to git up and go.

kay said...

Etta,

Glad to see honest assistance and disclosure on the web, compared to many so-called self-help sites just interested in affiliate marketing.

Hope you get to reach out to more people with your blog! Blessings!

Kay

Aaron said...

I stumbled upon your site by chance when looking for bike events benefiting depression research/resources. What a wonderful blog! I appreciate the candor and humanity. These are the kinds of things that help me feel less alone in my lifelong battle with depression. People who have not experienced the disease first hand just can't quite get it, no matter how well meaning they may be.

It looks like you are also using exercise as a form of therapy. It is one of the few things that can cut through the fog for me on a regular basis. It seems to me that if you have to have some obsession, it is not a bad one at all to have.

I hope the pneumonia is subsiding and you feel much better soon. Your work here is inspiring and helpful to a broader community. I am glad that serendipity brought me here. My plan is to check back frequently.

PS. Great looking dog!

etta said...

Thanks Kay and Aaron! I am glad you both found your way here.

BTW, Aaron, if you do find any sporting events--running or biking--benefitting mental illness, please let me know!

P.S. Puck says, "Thanks."

Tina said...

Congrats on opening the door for discussion, recovering and support during your AA meeting! I know it must have taken courage to share your mental health struggles. Your willingness to share your personal struggles inspired others to share and to seek help. I'm thrilled to hear that your group was supportive and encouraging to all who are dealing with mental illnesses.
Well done!
May this new year bring many new hope, new opportunities and happiness!

Carla said...

Hi Etta! I'm happy to have found your blog. Congratulations on your recent milestone. I wish you continued healing and joy as you journey ahead. I like how you say that acknowledging your depression, rather than discounting it, is a key part of your recovery- I also have found that bringing the struggle to the light is what destroys the darkness. I'm also finding that blogging/writing is becoming very healing for me too.

All the best to you,
Carla

Anonymous said...

i've the same situation with aa and mental illness. my sponsor wouln't talk about it because it wasn't aa .
i was diagonosed with major manic depression once i stopped drinking and the metal illness has so much to do with the drinking. i am currently searching for a dual diagonis meeting in my area rutherford nj. if anyone knows one please email me ,my group hasn't embraced as yours did and i am currently looking to join a new group and find a new sponsor. aa as done wonders for me in tons of ways i celebrated 5 years feb. 14th .so i wholly support aa just wish they would recognize how much mental illness has to do with it. thanks kathleen



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